Cultural Silences in Safety – Aesthetics

imageWhenever we do our culture program we work through the many beliefs, rituals and practices in societies that foster harm. So much for the nonsense of zero harm. Just watch the latest episode of 4 Corners to get an insight into just how much harm people want in order to fulfil a cultural myth. Why do people so readily wish to harm themselves? They seek meaning and purpose in their lives.

So many cultural activities foster harm to the body, from birth rituals, initiation rituals, rite of passage rituals and endless rituals considered essential for in and outgroup membership.

But Safety never talks about the essentials of culture and is silent about so many factors that are critical to understanding culture. Safety doesn’t discuss the dynamic of ritual.

Of course, then Safety wonders why it has no effect on culture change.

Similarly, Safety doesn’t talk about worldviews, philosophies, ideologies or methodologies, because in such research it may have to admit its own subjectivities and name its own trajectories that result in harm.

Another of the many cultural silences in safety is Aesthetics. Why does this matter?

Aesthetics matters because understanding Aesthetics is central to understanding ethics, politics and personhood.

So many of the cultural silences in safety relate to avoidance in discussing: worldview, perception, imagination, discovery, learning, poetics, envisioning, affordances, embodiment, emotions, feeling and the way it understands the world. Such is the bankrupt mono-disciplinary worldview of safety.

Aesthetics are about the richness of life and it is from all things experienced in life and being (that are not measurable) that we gain our greatest meaning and purpose. Yet Safety, relegates any discussion of such meaning to the fringe, Safety never talks about Aesthetics. This silence is beautifully maintained by the myth of ‘what gets measured gets managed’. When in reality, ‘all that counts can’t be counted’.

In the Safety worldview, life is framed in Kantian disinterest and the myth of objectivity. Safety dreams that its view of ethics (in duty as Natural Law) can be found in ‘check our gut’ and ‘do the right thing’ . Such is the mythology of objectivity in safety.

Based on Kantian brain-centrism we now have an industry steeped in engineering and Behaviourism that imagines the human body as a thing that gets injured and counted and the brain as a problem because it is rarely rational. Indeed, in Safety there is simply no discussion of the body-mind problem. The fact that Safety envisions no relevance to such a discussion is an indictment of this mono-disciplinary industry that enjoys the atmosphere of its own bubble.

Safety simply doesn’t discuss:

  • The body as a social resonance mechanism;
  • The body as a means and end in communication and social interaction
  • Embodied enactment, action and gesture as thinking
  • Meaning and purpose as embodied
  • The body as shaping, expressing and sharing ‘thoughts’ and
  • The body as a representational device.

Such is the bankrupt idea that the brain is the centre of thinking. So much research demonstrates clearly that brain-centrism is not true. See the list of suggested readings at the end of this blog.

One of the most important principles in an ethic of personhood in SPoR is that the whole person is Mind, not just the brain on top of a body. Indeed, SPoR considers ‘thinking’ as what happens between human persons in social space.

If it happens outside of the skull, Safety has little interest.

Safety so often is presented conceptually as a collection of right propositions and concepts, and this is often declared as ‘learning’. So, if you get your propositions and concepts right, safety will improve and such brain movement is defined as ‘learning’. When it is not.

In true Cartesian and Kantian style, Safety defines cognition as brain-centric, which is not about Cognition but Cognitivism. (Similarly, Safety is more interested in Scientism than Science as open enquiry). All the silences in safety are evidence of everything Safety is closed to.

The outcome in brain-centrism, is some strange quest for purity of mind and thinking. And in such discourse, there is no discussion of an ethic, meaning, personhood or Socialitie. Indeed, silence about personhood is essential if one wants to maintain a deontological ethic of duty and check your gut.

In Kantian thought, the brain gives meaning to Aesthetics, so art, music, dance and embodied experience is only understood through detachment (objective removal to the subject). The moment something becomes the subject of feelings and emotions (another silence in safety), all is subjective and removed from rational (brain) processing. In this way, all things Aesthetic are devalued and relegated to the subjectivities of emotions and feelings. Aesthetics are constructed as what you do on the weekend but have no relevance to work or safety. In this way, dis-embodied rationalism is elevated and embodied experience is devalued. Indeed, in safety – the emotions and risk are most often demonized.

We see this kind of thinking throughout safety, especially in the mythology of incident investigation. There is no investigations training on the market that discusses the subjectivity of the investigator as central to investigating (except for SEEK ). This silence about subjectivity makes such training fundamentally dishonest and unethical. The myth of objectivity is another silence of safety, ensuring the delusion that emotions and feeling have no part in decision making, thus investigations are constructed as brain-activity and all non-compliance as irrational.

When Kant defined such things as beauty, taste and perception, they were relegated to the fringe of being in rejection of the body and personhood as a ‘thinking ecological Mind’. Thus, leaving society with the delusion of brain-centrism and the idea that anything to do with Aesthetics was subjective, stuck in feelings and he irrational. We see this in Areily’s nonsense book Predictably Irrational. Areily even understands the non-rational as a mystical force. This is how Safety comes up with nonsense language as ‘Resilience Engineering’.

In this way, rational thinking is deified and the emotions and feelings demonized. From Augustine to Descartes to Kant we then got a church preoccupied with the sins of the body, sexual ‘sin’ and the body as the carrier of sin. We still see this today in the church, in all its forms. This is why the church is so preoccupied with sex.

The church has left us with this strange idea that a person is not a whole or unified in body-Mind but rather two segments mystically yoked together. What we then define as a ‘person’ is a bodily organism operated by a brain. And not just a brain but a brain-as-computer.

This is why the way we define person is so fundamental to ethics and why a safety-view of ethics never wants to discuss the issue of personhood.

So, Society and safety are now lumbered with the idea that Aesthetics is: ‘a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty. and the branch of philosophy which deals with questions of beauty and artistic taste’. Therefore, any knowing that is non-propositional is relegated to the subjective and propositional thinking is privileged. In his way, there are two senses of meaning: descriptive (cognitive meaning) and emotive (noncognitive meaning). This dichotomy, duality and binary way of defining personhood is dangerous. In this way cognition is understood as brain-centric and embodied experiential meaning is not even defined as ‘cognition’.

Yet, all persons make sense of the world experientially, emotively and unconsciously.

All professional Educators study meaning, linguistics and personhood as central to ethics, knowing and learning. When we study early childhood that is pre-conceptual, pre-textual, pre-lingual, and pre-propositional, we see how children construct meaning without any of these tools that brain-centrism defines as essential to sense making.

Indeed, paralinguistics, gesture, embodied communications and emotions are how children develop meaning. These processes never stop even after persons develop ways of using text, voice and language.

This is why understanding ritual is so important to an understanding of persons who make meaning. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a birthday party, wedding, funeral or teen group meeting, so much of meaning is not constructed through text but through gesture and ritual. All embodied meaning is pre-reflective, what Damasio calls the Feeling of What Happens.

The certitude and comfort of safety is not constructed through text, rational propositions or checklists but rather through the gestures and rituals that accompany such texts and propositions.

All meaning is relational. Persons make sense of the world and what it means through Socialitie.

For example, when love gives me meaning it is hardly a brain-centric activity but rather a whole of being activity so much so, that we always describe love as coming from the heart. We never say ‘I love you with all of my brain’, it simply doesn’t make sense. When we think of every love song on the planet we use the language of heart, soul and gut (Workspace, Headspace and Groupspace) and still we can’t capture it through rational explanation. Yet, love is central to meaning and personhood. As is all Aesthetic knowing.

Contrary the mythology of Safety ( ; ) people are not motivated by money and if it seems so, it is only ever temporary. The greatest motivator in life (and work) is meaning.

It is through our bodies that we connect to the world and find meaning and then maybe later try to intellectualize it. And then when we try to rationalize experience, we can’t do it justice, because embodied cognition is the deepest form of knowing.

So, in safety we never read about risk as a ‘dance’ but it is. There is no ‘fixing’ risk. Risk is essential for learning. Risk is a wicked problem. In safety, we never hear about leadership as an ‘art’ (DePree) nor about performance as embodied enactment (Elam). We never hear of Holistic Ergonomics but always human ‘factors’. Humans are always spoken of as ‘factors’ in a system, not as persons in the world. How interesting that the Aesthetics of Drama is relegated to the study of theatre and movies yet it is our daily political experience.

All living is about movement in the world and there is no learning without embodied movement. Stasis and zero are the enemy of learning. The only way to eliminate risk is to not move in the world. And all movement in the world is Aesthetic.

Aesthetics should not be shifted to the theatre or art gallery as a removed activity for the subjective emotions but rather Aesthetics is about our embodied movement in the world. This is also how First Nations people understand the world and why they are so connected to it. First Nations people intuit belonging to the world as an unconscious state of being. The world is not something one ‘rationalizes’ about. First Nations people ‘know’ the world through Aesthetics. How can we understand this?

My heuristics help me intuitively enact skills on an excavator and this no different than playing a guitar. When I get to intuitive knowing I no longer have to ‘think’ about what I do, regardless of what some silly Risk Assessment states. When I stop looking at the chord shapes and enter into the music, I can recall songs I never thought about and play ‘beyond’ thinking. This is how we operate all equipment once we have learned it ( ). But you don’t have to play the guitar to know this, we know this when we feel the end of a pen in our hand even though the instrument we hold as no nerve endings. Similarly, the excavator driver ‘feels’ the tip of the bucket through his hands as it becomes an extension of his knowing.

All human engagement with the world involves non-rational unconscious knowing ‘performed’ without ‘thinking’. The language of ‘complacency’ of course is safety nonsense ( ) that enables dismissal of any talk of the human unconscious (another silence in safety), decision making or persons. The language of ‘complacency’ emerges and only makes sense (meaning), from the dualist worldview of engineering and safety.

If one really wants to understand human judgment and decision making (in culture) then such an understanding won’t be found in a safety engineering text (nor ASSP journal). If one really wants to understand why people do what they do, such an understanding will never be developed though behaviourism or binary thinking.

If you really are seeking an understanding of why people do what they do, one needs to step outside of safety and its worldview. One needs to look at anything Safety is silent about and then investigate why?

A Reading List

So, next time you are thinking about what to read, don’t pick up a safety book, there will be nothing ‘different’ there. Try one of these:

  • Claxton, G., (2015) Intelligence in the Flesh. Yale University Press. New York.
  • Colombetti, G., The Feeling Body, Affective Science Meets the Enactive Mind. MIT Press, London.
  • Damasio, A., (1994) Descartes’ Error, Emotion, Reason, and The Human Brian. Penguin, New York.
  • Damasio, A., (1999) The Feeling of What happens, Body and Emotions in the Making of Consciousness. Harvest Books, New York.
  • Durt, C., Fuchs, T., and Tews, C., (eds.) (1997) Embodiment, Enaction, and Culture. MIT Press. London.
  • Fuchs, T., (2018) Ecology of the Brain, The Phenomenology and Biology of the Embodied Mind. Oxford University Press. London.
  • Ginot, E., (2015) The Neurophsychology of the Unconscious, Integrating Brain and Mind in Psychotherapy. Nortons. New York.
  • Noe, A., (2009) Out of Our Heads, Why You Are Not Your Brian and Other Lessons from The Biology of Consciousness. Hill and Wang. New York.
  • Panksepp, J., (1998) Affective Neuroscience, The Foundations of Human Animal Emotions. Oxford University Press. London.
  • Thompson, E., (2010) Mind in Life, Biology, Phenomenology, and the Science of the Mind. Belknap Press. London.
  • Tversky, B., (2019) Mind in Motion, How Action Shapes Thoughts. Basic Books. New York.
  • Van Der Kolk, B., (2015) The Body Keeps the Score, Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin, New York.
  • Varela, F., Thompson, E ., and Rosch, E., (1993) The Embodied Mind, Cognitve Science and Human Experience. MIT Press, London.

Indeed, start with

  • Johnson, M., (2007) The Meaning of the Body, Aesthetics of Human Understanding. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.
  • Johnson, M., (1987) The Body in the Mind, The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

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